the two of us headed for the zoo on Saturday morning. in planning the trip, we were both hesitant to tell the other that we wanted to go to the zoo. turned out it was on the top of each of our lists. the zoo was incredible. I don't think I've been to a zoo for 5 or 6 years. I love animals. why don't I ever go to the zoo? the highlights were the giraffes, elephants, Bengal tigers, flamingos, and a harmless Indian man with a pink shawl who, without permission, tagged along with us the entire tour of the zoo. I was especially awestruck at the baboons. there were 5 of them in varying heights--the largest was a very Rafiki-ish figure. and the smallest (the kids would say "he's soooooo puny Miss!") was more of a Curious George type. I felt a connection or an attachment to the baboons but moved on after a few minutes.
again, on our way to the palace, we ended up at Parklane, a tourist-geared restaurant. not excellent, but not bad either. after lunch, our driver was nowhere to be found. we were suddenly ambushed by men selling fans, flutes, boxes, snakes, you name it. all of which I look at and say "made in China!" an auto-rickshaw driver, came to us and told us he would take us somewhere for just 20 rupees. we decided we would just go for a walk and the rickshaw driver followed us. finally, settling on a round in the rickshaw for 5 rupees (Courtney hadn't ridden in one yet), we headed out on one of the best adventures.
the driver whose name we learned was Asif, took us to Old Mysore. the streets weren't paved and the people weren't jumping at us trying to sell us stuff, although they were definitely staring. he took us to an oil and scents shop where we saw this woman making incense. soon we were ushered into the owner's office. he ripped us off for a few essential oils, but the experience was worth it. it is times like these that I am constantly thinking, is this for real?
Asif took us a few more places, ultimately ending up at an emporium of silk pashminas, clothes, bags, and jewelry. I fell in love with a $100 (Rs. 4500) pashmina. I bargained it down to Rs. 1500 but told them I wouldn't take it until it was Rs. 1000. I thought I would get them by walking out the door, but they let me go. and that pashmina will go to someone else. oh well. for what was originally a Rs. 5 trip turned into a Rs. 50--surprising to swee Asif. he was so humble and sweet and really characterized the people we met in Mysore.
we went back to Parklane to see if our driver was there and ah, he was. off to the palace. but....no palace. we went to Brindavan Gardens to see the musical lights. a very Belagio-esque show was nice, but the best part was Asma, a 13-year-old girl visiting Mysore from Mumbai who made friends with us while fulfilling her mom's urging to practice her English. she came up to us after we met her and gave us a kiss on the cheek. she was darling.
we went to dinner at Dynasty with the driver. he was uncomfortable but we were uncomfortable having him eat separately from us all that time. he is still with us now.
this morning, we got up early to check out of the hotel. alas, our driver was not waiting for us. we walked around, attempting to avoid the many wooden snakes and cheap watches coming our way via persistent Indian men. we called Asif, but he couldn't make it for 20 minutes, so we hitched a ride to the fruit and vegetable market. it was a million times better than any hipster farmer's market I've ever seen. I wished all of you were there to see the bright-colored powders and the old, wrinkly women tending heaps of eggplant.
we finally made it to the palace. the architecture, the wood-carving, the golden doors, and the paintings were phenomenal. unfortunately, no cameras allowed. but like the baboons at the zoo, I was really drawn to an old photograph of some Indian children in the palace. the photo was as old as they come, but the people were real. it was the only photo in the place, the rest were paintings. like a cliche, their eyes followed me as I walked.
Mysore was quiet but sufficient and much more charming than any other place I've been in India. it was a delight.
I am feeling good about things. Mysore was about a 4-hour drive from Shanti Bhavan, and traveling the windy roads up against mountains and through trees made me forget I was in India. I've been thinking of home. I'm doing all right without Melissa. I miss having someone who shares my brainwave but am coping. I love all of you.
I can't remmber who taught me the Mission Impossible them secret knock. no doubt it was someone hilarious and dear to me. but I can't, for the life of me, remember. was it my class-clown of a best friend Megan? or was it here husband Blake? was it my funny friend Carly? or could it have been Meredith or someone we both knew? maybe it was my brother, or my brother-in-law? I can't remember if it was my roommate's boyfriend, or some student I had in American Heritage. please, someone help me. when I think of this, I wish so badly I was just a text mesage away instead of half a world.
basketball game this week. girls against boys. draw your own conclusions.
to my dear aquaintances:
I am writing today with not much to say. I feel full—but empty at the same time. Melissa has gone. I talked to her on the phone this morning. what a strange phenomenon, to be in the exact same place I was satnding with her, 2 days ago, while talking to her on the phone, half a world away. I miss her tremendously. but being with the kids—who offer their adoration in exchange for a strawberry-shaped eraser—makes it easy to forget my own troubles.
I’ve been thinking about writing lately. teaching writing 8 times a week, reading as much as I possibly can afford, and writing even more, my thoughts are turned to the old pen-to-paper business. reading Jacob 4:2, “but whatsoever things we write upon save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words on plates, which will give to our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engrave these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts.” (this is from Jacob, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, who labored diligently to write the things of Christ).
I read these words and think how we learn ourselves and then teach our children about the great invention of paper. how ingenious it was. indeed it was, but I have not thought much about its permanence. paper doesn’t last forever. but these words were originally written on a surface that does.
it means so much to me to be able to write in a journal every day. nothing can replace my pen-to-paper habits. I am constantly returning to a scene in the movie Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2. (random movie, and actually a disappointment to me compared to the first) A scene in that movie where Bridget is studying archeology. her professor tells her about the ancient people they were uncovering—they tried to leave themselves on every surface they could find she said. I’ve thought about that a lot, wondering which surfaces I will leave myself on?
are the surfaces I write on long-lasting? I love writing on paper. it won’t last forever, but it’s a need I must fulfill. what about, I think, the cyber world? perhaps the digital interfaces are longer-lasting. publishing things here seems quite permanent, barring your blog doesn’t get erased. the internet is a blessing to me. (what are your thoughts technology-gurus?) also, I have a friend who told me once he feels the record of his life is in the people he meets, knows, loves. I thought that was a beautiful thought. leaving yourself in people rather than in a notebook or a web site.
I had the neatest day yesterday. Saturdays are half-days of school for the kids, so in the afternoon, I went into the school music room to play the violin--just for fun. Miss Ruth is the music teacher there and she is about 60 years old. I wish I could send you a picture of her, or even better copy and paste our entire conversation here. She is a picture of India to me. She is wearing a tight, gray-haired bun, and according to Kavitha and Prathiba (my 9th grade drama queens) she wears her saris in an old-fashioned way. She is missing some teeth, but her smile is enchanting as the brown skin around her eyes wrinkles. She has had a story of a life--married to a man who was abusive to her 3 children, had 2 wives besides her, all due to his alcoholism. Her life has not been a life of tragedy, but one of miracles. She has so much faith and she talked to me for 2 hours about her belief in God.
wish I had more time. wish I could post every picture I've taken. I love you all. may God bless you.
although I am missing the days when I could hop on my macbook and document every last thought with cyber space, I am cherishing the moments I have here--trying to sum up all the happiness I have felt in nearly every moment I live through at Shanti Bhavan.
I feel a certain obligation to travel throughout India. even all of Asia. it would be so easy for me to hop on a plane to Cambodia or to take a train to Nepal. which I want to do. but leaving the kids is so hard, and I have found my weekends in Bangalore are too long and too far from my 4th grade Social Studies, reading Where the Red Fern Grows. and too far from my 12th graders--searching for the purpose of life while editing their college application essays. so the need to travel, or the social obligation I am putting on myself to say I've seen the Taj Mahal or been to Amritsar, is subsiding.
wandering through the 'upstairs' library a few times a week has become quite serendipitous for me. I find that I am drawn to the most random books. I check the book out, feeling it is my destiny to read it, only to check it back in the next day. a few books I have held on to, one of which is called The Importance of Living by Yin Lutang. it is mostly about savoring the moment. he talks about 33 moments of happiness--how overall happiness in life comes from the cumulation of small things. my mind has been soaking in this idea for about 2 weeks now. and I have come to feel the love of God through the small, infinitessemal things. the things I am attempting to share with you--though it is impossible to convey what they mean to me. and it is even more unlikely that I will be able to enumerate every one.
I wake up to the sounds of Melissa reading or writing in her journal. kind as she is, she goes into the lounge to study so as to not wake me. I have been dreaming of airplanes lately. every dream is something different, but airplanes are always present. interpretation anyone? I wash my face and brush my teeth in the shower because our sink drain sends out a rancid smell each time we turn it on. I dress and pull my hair back. headband always. a little reading, perhaps a little writing, a prayer. I walk up the stairs and on the path to the dining hall, breeze on my face, children laughing and saying "good morning, Miss!" ah, is this not happiness?
breakfast. I will miss the food tremendously when I leave here. each morning breakfast is a sort of pancake or mushy rice stuff. note to self: write the funny names of foods down. served with the pancakes is usually a cocunut sauce, spicy and delicious. it reminds me of, but is in no way like, Eggs Mornay, a dish Mom made once from a bed & breakfast. I've learned to eat pleasantly with my hands. (in Bangalore 2 weeks ago, we dined at Sunny's. a popular spot for tourists and ex-pats because they serve western food. that morning at Shanti Bhavan, I ate mushy rice with my hands. there at Sunny's, I order pizza and eat with a fork. ah, is this not happiness?)
violin lessons with Pushpa. she's been practicing on her own, with no teacher, for 2 years. I'm beeming with pride as she learns the Indian national anthem. she's learning well but 25 minutes is hardly enough time to remember everything I know about teaching violin. I wish I'd brought more materials, and picked Bonnie's brain for ideas. luckily, Summer has arrived, who graduated from Juliard in cello performance. the kids have taken an interest in cello-playing and that is a blessing to me.
first period. always first period with my 8th grade. they are smart, but lazy. they get me side-tracked easily. we are reading The Odyssey. oi vei. I've never read it--how am I supposed to be teaching it. what a nightmare. but they are good sports and we are doing just fine. the summaries they must write for each chapter should be helping.
assembly. assembly was the first time I cried, first time I got chills on my first day at Shanti Bhavan. it is a beautiful experience. the staff prayer is said, something I'll have to include another time. the kids say a beautiful prayer, blessing their families, teachers, house mothers, and everyone. praying for the guidance to do what is right and value what is good. their little voices get me every time. then they sing the school song. ...I might be an astronaut, I might be a musician... and so on. you can imagine. their little eyes wander--they know the words so well but their minds are somewhere else. I catch Rajesh's eye (3rd grade mennace but the boniest and cutest little guy--I swear he has the sense of humor of a 25-year-old bachelor). he smiles and remembers what he is doing. ah, is this not happiness?
lunch. if I'm lucky, it's chipatti and a spicy curry. again, I am eating with my hands. as Mysterious Girl comes over the loud speaker I am bouncing my shoulders. the kids look at me like I'm crazy but they are laughing. they should dance more, I think and keep dipping my fingers and tortilla-like bread into a chick-pea curry. ah, is this not happiness?
1:20 p.m. - 3:35 p.m.
school as usual. Indian civics isn't the easiest to teach. teaching is a hard feat in itself, add teaching kids in a foreign country, plus teaching a subject you are learning yourself. and there you go. no time to tell of each grade or each child. but later, I promise.
P.T. or-- Physical Training, commonly known as Play Time because the younger kids just run around, play with dirt, rocks, plants, berries, etc. I tauhgt 4th grade Shilpa to squeeze my hands 3 times to silently tell the person whose hand your holding "I. love. you." they should then squeeze back 4 times: "I. love. you. too." I taught her in a flurry of commotion last week. I didn't expect her to remember. but as all kids do, she did. she ran up from behind me, grabbed my hand and squeezed 3 times: "I. love. you." I squeezed back 4. I looked down at her and her big sparkling eyes were looking at me, holding back a smile. ah, is this not happiness?
on Thursday's, we meet with Dr. George, the founder. he is so personable to the kids and he truly loves them and is giving his best for them. I read Rainbow Fish the other day, and it reminded me of Dr. George--in the start such a sparkly fish but has found happiness through giving every sparkling fin away. the kids adore him. and the 7th grade - 12th grade listen as he explains Indo-Russian relations throughout the Cold War, and tells them of the tailoring project he is working on in a nearby village. he asks the kids if they know what the Constitution is. I cringe. none of my 7th and 8th graders know. ah, is this not happiness?
a late and spicy dinner. this is the only meal we are allowed to sit with the kids. they talk and talk and talk and by 8:00 p.m. they haven't eaten a bite. their house mothers look at us but don't say anything, yelling instead at the kids. occassionally I can get some gossp out of the older girls--do they think any of the boys are cute? who have they ever had a crush on? usually all I get is Zac Efron. the younger kids though, they all have games to play during meals. it's a freezing game, or a no blinking game, or a guessing game, or telephone games. they are so cute. last night, I asked 4th grade Vishwasagar if he was going to join choir when he got to 5th grade. he said he didn't know, and I said I thought he should. "Miss," he looked at me. "We don't know the future." ah, is this not happiness?
if I'm lucky, I get to bed.the thin mattress doesn't bother me. I pray and thank God for this opportunity. wondering why me? asking for guidance. asking Him to make up for my weaknesses in their education, and in their lives. ah, is this not happiness?
I can't believe my time is halfway over here. I can't believe I'm here. will I ever stop crying during the beautiful choir songs in Tamil? will I ever get over the honking in the streets? or the colors of the saaris the women are wearing? will I ever recover from these moments of happiness? I hope not.